One of the things that I’ve learned in the past ten years of cross-cultural work is that suffering is normal. For us it can take many forms – loneliness, cultural stress, ministry disappointments, difficult team relationships…. It’s not only for us, it’s also for the believers we relate to – we’ve seen business failures, serious sickness, poverty, family opposition, loss of jobs, and discouragement.
The reality, though, is that suffering is everywhere. My sister and family suffered a traumatic robbery while driving through Guatemala and their oldest son was beaten. Since then another sibling had a house fire and a family member is dealing with cancer. Suffering takes many forms. Some are visible and others are less so.
We’ve just finished reading 1 Peter as a family for our evening devotions. It has beautiful truths for those who are suffering.
Suffering is Normal
I Peter 4:12 (ESV) says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” One mistake we often make is to be surprised by suffering. We are often surprised because suffering doesn’t feel right. There is a real sense that suffering isn’t right because we weren’t made for a broken world – we were made for Eden. We were made to live in the beauty of the presence of God.
Yet Peter reminds us not to be surprised by suffering. Suffering happens. I sometimes share with my brothers here about the sufferings that other believers face, and this helps them realize that suffering isn’t limited to one country.
This is also a good reminder for us in cross-cultural work. Yes, the flavor of our experiences may vary somewhat, but the hard times we experience in other settings isn’t that different from what believers experience in our home communities and around the world.
1 Peter 4:1 says “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.” None of us wishes to go through hard times, but hard times can work beautiful fruit in our lives.
It isn’t automatic – many times we spend so much time fighting against hard times that we don’t embrace the good things that God wants to do in our lives. Peter reminds us to arm ourselves with the same attitude as Christ. When we turn to Christ and allow his truth to speak to us and his grace to work in us, then there will be beautiful fruit.
That attitude comes from a life of staying close to Jesus – abiding in Him and He abiding in us. We have no life in ourselves. We have no strength in ourselves. We just stay close to Jesus. He is the vine and we are just the branches. We draw everything from Him and his life flows into us. When that happens there is beautiful fruit.
Suffering really reveals the nature of that fruit. When you cut open a peach, then peach juice spills out. When you cut open a mango, mango juice spills out. However, when you cut open an abscess, then poison spills out. The cut doesn’t change what’s inside, it only shows it to the world. What spills out when you are cut? Too often for me, it looks more like an abscess than a peach. And yet, as I keep walking with Jesus He keeps changing me. This week after a discouraging interaction, I again started praying “Lord, let me bleed Christ.” I want to be so close to Christ and so full of Christ, that when I’m cut, it’s Christ that spills out.
Suffering is Temporary
The good news is that suffering is temporary. In I Peter 5:10, Peter reminds us “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” It can feel like suffering lasts forever, but it actually only lasts a little while. And in the end, God himself will restore us and make us strong. I’m praying for each of you this week that you may know that grace and be strengthened in the hope of the glory that awaits us.
Devotional written by E.M.